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Photo by Danette M. Watt
Tahj Womack cuts shingling material. He was among a group of students from Bruce Deibert’s construction trades class at Alton High School who were repairing the bathroom roof at James H. Killion Park the last week of October.
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Photo by Danette M. Watt
Bruce Deibert directs a group of Alton High School students as they work to repair the bathroom roof at Salu Park the last week of October. Deibert teaches construction trades at the school.
ALTON — The sound of hammers striking plywood broke the silence in James H. Killion Park the last week of October and laborers called to one another as they worked.
Bruce Deibert directed them in their tasks: rolling a magnet used for picking up dropped nails, cutting shingles and laying roofing paper. Three days into the project, they had torn off the old shingles and replaced the plywood; new soffit and siding were possible additions to the job.
A passerby wouldn’t think twice of the group working to repair the bathroom facility’s roof. But what made these workers different was their status — they were students in Deibert’s construction trades class at Alton High School.
“Roofing isn’t the greatest job, but they’re eager and they wanted to do it,” Deibert said.
Like many ideas — good or bad — it began with a passing comment. Alton Mayor Brant Walker ran into Alton High School Principal Dr. Russell Tepen at an event at the park. Walker said the city had planned to fix the facility until “the governor pulled grants.” Tepen mentioned the school’s building trades classes.
And a deal was struck.
“It’s a win-win arrangement,” Walker said. “The students learn a trade and the community benefits.”
Republic Services provided a trash receptacle and waived fees to haul the old materials.
This is Deibert’s first year teaching at AHS, but he’s no stranger to the trades. He worked in construction more than 30 years, then had an opportunity to teach the same curriculum in Highland. Seven years later, the district cut the program.
“I love teaching,” Deibert said. “This is a great program and a valuable skill to teach youth. Last year, the curriculum was book-based. This year, he said, it’s hands-on.”
The class size is small, just 15 students, and only eight were on site that morning. So far the class has done electrical work, plumbing, framed windows and doors and hung drywall.
Senior Tahj Womack, 17, took the class last year and finds the hands-on aspect this year “helpful. This is more advanced, more hands-on and less book.”
He’s considering following his dad into the trades after school. But, he said, “My dad works on tearing down buildings. I want to do more building.”
His classmate and fellow senior Jordan Fuller, 18, describes himself as a “hands-on person.” He also plans to continue in the trades after graduation with schooling as an electrician.
“I hope to get electrical experience in this class,” he said.
Bob Barnhart, the city’s public works director, said the roof was at least 35 years old and probably original to the building. In addition to the roof, the city plans to make it Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant with an accessible sidewalk, making the park more user-friendly.
“This is a self-esteem builder and gives (the students) a sense of ownership,” Barnhart said.
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